I am writing a novel set in France and Algeria in the 1950s. Last year, in the course of my research, I reread a book that I first read 15 years ago and greatly admired. On second reading, I think I can claim that it is a masterpiece. It is beautifully and wittily written, and while it is almost 500 pages long, it moves with the speed of exciting fiction.
But what makes it a masterpiece is its tour de force depiction of how, between 1870 and 1914, peasant France, a hodgepodge of differing societies and languages, was integrated into the official culture of Paris and the cities. The France we know today was, for me, suddenly and brilliantly illuminated by this insightful incursion into its past. Its title is "Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914" (Stanford University Press). The author is Eugen Weber, and his book is happily, and deservedly, still in print.